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Old 03-18-2011, 06:06 AM   #1
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1986 32' Excella
Lumberton , Texas
Join Date: Mar 2011
Posts: 42
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Restoration - '86 Excella 32'

We are in the process of restoring our "new" Airstream. We bought it last week in good/bad condition and starting work on it now. We have pulled the carpet, removed the drapes, and done general cleaning and ready to get down to business. Does anyone have any "first to do" list or "what not to do" list. This is all new to us but is a "have to do" for me. I am 65, in not so good health, with a dream of owning an Airstream since 1973. It's now or never and I chose now. We can use all the help we can get on this project but have done building/home restorations for 40+ years.

This is a brushed aluminum trailer and I am thinking of polishing it to a gloss. Is this a mistake? I know it is a lot of work but to me it is worth it.
I will replace the carpet with laminate flooring.
Redo all fabrics on sofa, dinette, windows, walls, etc.
Replace / repair all water lines.
Replace toilet with a high rise.
Replace / repair lighting / electrical. Will a new / smaller microwave need a switch to turn off everything else?

We will try and post pictures and updates as we go along. Thanks in advance. Kelly

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Old 03-18-2011, 06:34 AM   #2
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Kelly If you have done home reno's for 40+ yrs you will appreciate the fact that you need to start with a good foundation to build on. You wouldn't just paint and carpet a home with a crumbling foundation and a leaking roof. So you need to make sure the frame and floor are in good condition. The unfortunate reality is that you can't tell exactly what shape the frame is without pulling the belly pan off. There are however some tell tale indicators that will give you a start. If the belly is sagging or has come loose from the frame or if the area around the rivets holding the belly to the frame is severely corroded it usually indicates the frame is rusting out. Typical spots for frame rust out are a) around the steps, b) around the fresh water tank, c) at the rear and around the waste tanks.
To check the integrity of the floor look all around the perimeter of the floor where it meets the shell with an ice pick. Most times visually you can locate floor rot and the ice pick is used to confirm just how rotted it is. Pay particular attention to those spots below all openings like windows and compartment doors. If you have batteries located in the front of the trailer under the couch check there too as often they will have boiled over or their comparttments are leaking and caused the floor to rot. Of course the rear section of the floor needs a close inspection. Airstreams have a built in design flaw at the rear bumper door to shell connection which allows water to flow unchecked into the trailer and will definately rot the floor there and will also rust out the frame as the water runs down into the belly, which is absorbed by the fiberglass insulation and continues to do it's worst.
If all checks out well on the frame/floor combo then move on to sealing up the shell. Windows, doors, roof vents, stink pipe vent stacks, basiaclly all openings should have the old sealer removed and replaced with new. Once again the rear bumper cover to shell connection and the lower beltline trim molding needs particular attention toward sealing up leaks.
Now moving on to your other questions. Unless you are prepared to spend 400 to 500 hrs to strip and polish the shell and another 50 to 100 hrs annually to keep up the appearance then don't do it. I am diong mine and let me tell you I wish I hadn't ever started it.
So if you intend to polish do it before sealing up the shell, otherwise you will destroy the sealer and mess up your poilsh job.
Next start with all the infrastructure, fresh water plumbing, electrical ( 12VDC and 110 VAC), waste water plumbing, and propane gas supply, and of course all appliances.
Finish off with flooring, carpet, drapes, painting and upholstery.
The order is basically just like doing a house with some minor differences.
I hope this helps you and you realize the time and effort involved. Too many people want to short cut the basic structure and jump right into flooring and drapes and deeply regret it later.

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Old 03-18-2011, 06:45 AM   #3
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1964 17' Bambi II
Vintage Kin Owner
Schererville , Indiana
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Hi Kellywood & welcome to the forum! I have a 1986 31' Sovereign, so just about the same as yours. Yours probably has a dinette. Wasachris has given you very good advise. Start inside & get that all good before you start the outside. My trailer had serious issues with the outriggers on the frame that needed to be addressed. If your floor is all solid (including under the beds & behind the couch) you're probably in good shape.

I polished my trailer because I love the look. Did a 27 footer before this one. The '86 was more work because of the milling that had to be removed, but I'm happy with it. I have to do my spring polish job on it yet. It didn't take me 500 hours, though. More like 200 I'd guess. Each spring is probably 15-20 hours, but I've only done it one spring. Hopefully it'll go faster this year! Good luck with the trailer. We're all here for you!

1964 Bambi II
1988 Avion 32S
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Old 03-18-2011, 08:00 AM   #4
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1973 27' Overlander
Sparks , Nevada
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Originally Posted by wasagachris View Post
....Too many people want to short cut the basic structure and jump right into flooring and drapes and deeply regret it later.

Count me as one of those... thankfully, this forum helped me put together a more appropriate priority list. Every 3-4 months I try to tackle another job. Funny how, after a couple years, the cosmetic issues that I just could not live with have become, very livable! I hardly even notice all that damn brown faux wood anymore. Maybe because I'm having such a great time camping!

How about some pictures of your girl Kelly!!! Can't even imagine all the room in a 32'.

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Old 03-18-2011, 09:37 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by kellywood View Post
Does anyone have any "first to do" list or "what not to do" list.

Chris wrote a nice post. I like all of it.

To me, it matters what I'm planning for the trailer. Am I going to pull it 40,000 miles a year over plowed fields? Is it going to be stored in a waterproof garage and be floated to the lake 20 miles twice a year on new blacktop highways? Or is it going to be turned into a park model on a dedicated paradise campsite?

I have a '76. I started on the top (with deferred maintenance), and worked my way down to window and door gaskets. I tested and failed all of the fixtures and appliances. Everything from the air conditioner and roof vents to the water heater, furnace, cooking stove and refrigerator have been replaced.

When I removed the built-ins I found concealed damage to the sub floor and to the frame. I didn't like the cabinets and built-ins in mine and I have removed it all except the end caps and the two door tambour (that contains the power center) over the kitchen area. I'm building everything new and installing all new furniture.

I'm in the middle of an unplanned project . . . but I will prevail:-)

Click on the link to see a picture of the Sioux River falls near my home.
Eastern South Dakota is very pretty with hills, rivers, and trees.
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Old 03-18-2011, 01:04 PM   #6
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1986 32' Excella
Lumberton , Texas
Join Date: Mar 2011
Posts: 42
Images: 14
Thanks to all of you!!! I didn't know I was in such good company here. It's good to know I am not alone in this journey to a dream. I have pulled the carpet and checked the flooring and it all seems to be in good condition except for the bathroom. It has damage around the toilet that had been covered up. I bought this trailer as being in great condition to find out it was not what I was told or what it looked like. Shame on me for not checking closer - he seemed so nice and concerned - lol. I still feel I got a fair deal at $12,000 on it. All wood work is in great condition, electrical, and tanks seem to all be good. It has new 10cf firge, new AC unit, and does not leak anywhere and no signs of it ever having leaked. It's just all the little things I asked about and did not get a true answer to.

Any way here I go, ready and willing to meet the task at hand. I have a great helper that can do everything needed with my help. Yes it will take time and money but I will stay in it for the long haul. We both want to do it right the first time and be proud of it for years to come.
Where do I post pictures of the project as we go along?
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Old 03-18-2011, 01:45 PM   #7
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Kelly you don't say if your unit is double bed or twins model. Does it have a dinette and if it is the double bed model does it have the rare double entry door?
So have you throughly checked the floor right around the perimeter where it meets the shell? You need to look under the couch and bed and inside cabinets. If it is indeed in good shape and the belly looks good your frame and floor may be fine. It is possible to patch in a section around the damaged area. You will need to remove the toilet and maybe the surrounding wall to make sure your patch has something to rest on. Use a smaller section of wood underneath each seam so your patch has something to sit on. Place half of the small piece under the original floor and use the other half for your patch. This method of patching should be familiar if you've done drywall repairs.
In all fainess to the PO he may not have known the true condition if the damage you're finding is hidden.
The new fridge is it an RV fridge or a regular household fridge? 10 cuft. sounds large for an RV fridge. A household fridge will be fine if you don't plan to travel with it, if you do you will need an Rv fridge that runs on either 110VAC or propane. If it is a household fridge make sure they capped (actually a plug) off the original propane line to the fridge.
By the way they all leak, even airstreams. Like I said before the rear bumper storage cover wher it meets the shell is a poor design and is very prone to leaks. Reseal that area and the lower beltline trim.
You can start your own thread in the 86 Excella section of the forums. Here is the link.
1984 -1986 Excella - Airstream Forums
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Old 03-18-2011, 03:46 PM   #8
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1986 32' Excella
Lumberton , Texas
Join Date: Mar 2011
Posts: 42
Images: 14
It is the twin bed model with dinette across from the kitchen. I like the floor plan very much and waited a long time to find one like it. I almost bought the 34' but didn't want the three axel setup.
I have gone around the trailer in full - inside and out. The only floor rot is in the bathroom around the toilet and beside one battery compartment - about a 4"X6" area. I didn't find any other areas other than some dark places where it had been wet but still solid and not swollen. My only other concern is the lower black base around the outside of the trailer. In three locations the metals have reacted and the iron ate through the aluminum. There is rusting on the end of the floor joist but does not seem to go deep into the inside of the trailer. All of the belly seems to be in good condition other than one dent on the fresh water tank. All rivets are still in place and aluminum is still even with out swag in any areas. The iron metal around the door, rear, and front does have some rust but it seems to be only surface rust which I will clean prep and paint. The frige is an RV Dometic 3way double door 8 cubic foot. Sorry I was not thinking.
As for the PO - when i confronted him with some of the problems he said "Oh yea I forgot about that." HE said he had used a plastic jug with water to flush the toilet and kept the water turned off because it leaked - and the list goes on. I am OK with it just a little angry that he could not tell the truth about it. I will go over to the 84-86 section to keep in touch with the project. Thanks again, Kelly
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Old 05-27-2011, 02:12 PM   #9
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1959 22' Flying Cloud
1969 25' Tradewind
1983 34' Limited
fairview , New Mexico
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83 34 ft limited

Welcome to the forums. We are currently doing a reno (95%) on a 34 limited. Probably was a far more extensive one than you are planning. Our progress is on "83 reno project"-if you want to take a peek at the things we have done so far. Sounds like you have the priorities set up. Keep us up on your progess-T

Avion C11
1959 Flying Cloud
1969 Tradewind
1973 Safari
1983 34 ft Limited
2004 F250 superduty ext cab
2014 F350 longbed superduty crewcab
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Old 05-27-2011, 06:05 PM   #10
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1986 31' Sovereign
Naples , Florida
Join Date: Apr 2011
Posts: 149
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Wow, We just got a Sovereign '86 31' in very nice (working) condition. As in a few hours ago... I was just 'lurking' the sight for a few months but Kelly you have pulled me out of the closet! I will be following your posts and use your experience as a touchstone. Please keep the site posted!

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1986 excella, reno

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